It was only a matter of time before someone taught robots how to steal
There’s something rotten on Youtube, and I’m not talking about PewDiePie. Not long ago the worst you’d come across would be the occasional 14 year-old boasting of unmentionable acts against your dear mother in the comments section of an Iggy Azalea video. Lately however, a new threat has risen. You may have come across it already and been mildly confused for a second or two before shoving off to another slightly more reliable news source. Perhaps you clicked a link in the top comment of a particularly interesting reddit thread (as I did) only to be led to a Youtube video soullessly narrated by a robotic female voice as barely relevant stills from a low-res Google image-search strobed from one picture to another. What was this crap?
I was relieved to see I wasn’t the only reader offended by what was being passed off as a legitimate article. For the curious, here is the offending video in question: (Do me a favor and stop it after a few seconds or so)
I felt dirty after sitting through this lifeless abomination. Immediately I wanted answers. With a bit of searching I discovered this video was one of hundreds (if not thousands by now) of crap-filled robo commentary spewed by several different “news distributors” all across Youtube. What’s so bad about using a text-to-speech bot to give news? Nothing, except that it’s not the creators news to give. In the past year, somebody has found a way to automate a process where news is collected from sources all over the internet, fed through a speech converter, and posted to a Youtube channel. There are bots on Youtube plagiarizing everything from local neighborhood shootings to international business news. Publications from the Washington Post, the BBC, and most likely other major news sources have all been the target of this theft, and I can’t help but wonder if it’s only a matter of time before smaller, weekly blogs are hit. To make matters worse, videos are often given a higher ranking in Google’s search engine results, pushing legitimate text sites farther down into obscurity.
Why bother creating these videos? Good question. You know those annoying advertisement bars at the bottom of Youtube videos that you immediately close so you can see more of Iggy Azalea’s talent? The owner of the video actually gets paid a small amount from Youtube for allowing that. After getting “approved” by Youtube, the creator can become a “partner” receiving periodic monetary compensation. While the video above no longer shows advertisements at the bottom of the window, there was a time when it did. That means there was a time when its thieving creator was getting paid. As of this date (4/1/2015), the video below is still receiving money through Youtube:
While it may be getting harder to receive money through mass-produced robo-news, videos of equal crappiness are still making money through Google Adsense by not going through Youtube at all. How much money are they raking in? It depends. Assuming there’s a decent viewership, Google AdSense pays out every time a viewer clicks the ad banner, and pays a little bit per view as well. Videos from the United States seem to make a little bit more than videos from Europe and South America for some reason, and factors like the amount of viewers and subscribers also affect monetary compensation. One of the bigger factors in pricing a video is the video’s “bounce rate.” This just means the amount of time a viewer spends viewing the page once it’s been opened. Closing or hitting the back button immediately after opening a page, for example, increases the bounce rate and actually hurts the ranking of the page that was opened.
As I said, the actual monetary compensation can change depending on a number of things, but a little over two dollars per a thousand views seems to be pretty typical in the US. To quantify that, the video above currently has over 72,000 views (as of 4/1/2015). That’s potentially a bit more than $144 for doing absolutely nothing. BUT, that’s only one video. A quick look into the channel’s profile reveals hundreds of automated videos, many with a few thousand likes. If they toss up 500 videos and only 10 of them get that many views, that’s still a couple thousand dollars. Unfortunately, crime can pay.
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If this angers you like it angers me, the one saving grace is that Youtube (and therefore owner Google) is actually pretty diligent, for the most part, about closing loopholes to their operations. People are pretty good about complaining, and as a result policies are changing every day.
I’m all for inginuity and working smarter over working harder, but there’s absolutely no place in my book for a thief.